Which NBA Players Would You Pay to See Play 1-on-1?

In case you missed it, over the weekend Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson went one on one in 18 holes of golf with $9 million at stake, in a round of golf televised only on Pay-Per View (and apparently Bleacher Report Live online).

It got me thinking – what if the NBA did something like this. Who would you pay money to see play one-on-one?

Honorable Mention

Kevin Durant vs Draymond Green

We don’t know how deep this hatred runs, but to be honest outside of Green yapping, this wouldn’t be much of a basketball game as Durant is the far superior player. The intrigue is that Green recently used not nice words to call out Durant in front of the whole team, mid game, on the court, leading to a one game suspension. With Durant a free agent at the end of this season, we might get to see these two face off soon enough (though not necessarily in a one-on-one environment).

Kyrie Irving vs Lebron James 

We know these two have issues, following Irving’s departure from Cleveland before the 2017 season, but the truth is, like the above, this isn’t a very appealing basketball game. The only appeal is their apparent hate for each other, but James is sometimes protective of his image and his emotions on the court, so there’s no guarantee that the banter would be worth the price.

Kyrie Irving vs Jamaal Murray 

Murray isn’t a big enough name to garner a high return on investment, but perhaps this game could be the appetizer to a main event. Murray scored a career high 49 points earlier this year for the Nuggets against the Celtics and was clearly trying for one more basket, to get to 50 in the final minute. Irving took offense to his “arrogance” and instead of allowing Murray to keep a meaningful game ball, he chucked it deep into the crowd. Days later, Irving called out Murray noting he will “remember that”.

Joel Embiid vs Hassan Whiteside

A feud between these two started last October during a pre-season game and escalated on twitter. It continued into the postseason, when the 76ers eliminated the Heat in the first round. As you can see in this article the twitter spat included comments about Embiid’s injury history, shooting percentage, and flopping, while Embiid called out his +/-, called him soft, and even took a shot at Kevin Durant in the process. Seeing these two on the court would be worth the price simply for the back and forth banter – can Embiid prove Whiteside is soft? Or would he come to play?

One-on-One NBA Games – Top 7

Joel Embiid vs Andre Drummond

Earlier this season, following a 39 point, 17 rebound, 2 block performance by Joel Embiid in a 76ers win over the Pistons, he had this to say on twitter to Andre Drummond, who scored just 8 points, with 9 rebounds

Patrick Beverly vs Russell Westrook

On paper, this doesn’t seem like an evenly matched game, as Russell Westbrook has averaged a triple double each of the last two seasons and won league MVP in 2017. Beverly has career averages of 9 points and 4 assists. But this isn’t about stats or paper. This about the hatred these two have for each other. This is such a rivalry that police were involved in a minor scuffle between the two players earlier this season.

The Big Lead does a good job documenting each step in the fight, how Westbrook mocked Beverly by “rocking the baby”. Ultimately, it led to Beverly diving at Westbrook’s leg in an apparent attempt to injure him.

Chris Paul vs Rajon Rondo 

These two PGs HATE each other. This isn’t an observation or assumption, it’s been said out loud. According to teammates, these two have been waiting 10 years to go at each other, and earlier this season finally came to blows. The fight saw punches thrown, lots of shoving and ultimately Rondo spat in the face of Paul.

Kawhi Leonard vs Derozan Derozan

Unlike the above games, these players (supposedly) don’t hate each other. I mean they might, but there’s no previous history to suggest they do. This game would be played simply to showcase whose better after the two all-stars were traded for each other. Derozan, after 9 years in Toronto was sent to the Spurs after he failed to help lead the Raptors passed Lebron James and the Cavs and into the NBA Finals. Leonard had a falling out with the Spurs and played just 9 games in 2017-18 due to injuries and other reported off-the-court issues. Recently, Spurs coach Greg Popovich called out Leonard’s ability to be a leader. The Raptors, without Derozan and with Leonard, have the best record in the NBA (17-4). Media folks spent all summer assessing and analyzing this trade so why not settle it with a little one-on-one.

Giannis Antetokounmpo vs Anthony Davis

Another example of a non hateful game. Two of the best young players in the NBA today. Both, Giannis and Anthony Davis are each averaging 27 points and 13 rebounds per game. Giannis is about 6’11 with a wingspan that spans most of Milwaukee, while Davis is 6’10 and full of a lot more muscle than he had a few years ago. These two men are learning how to shoot and have proven they can handle the ball. The sight of two near seven footers going one on one and the idea of a bright NBA future, makes this game very appealing.

Russell Westbrook vs Kevin Durant

From an on court stand point, this may be a bit lopsided, but I would pay just to hear the trash talk between rivals. In 2016, the Thunder led the Warriors 3-1 in the Eastern Conference Finals, but blew the lead and lost the series. Two months later, Durant left OKC to sign with those same Warriors, a decision that obviously rubbed Westbrook the wrong way. Westbrook has never spoken directly about Durant’s departure but has been on instagram and twitter posting vague songs or lyrics that come across as shade towards his former teammate. In addition to lyrics, there was also this post of a cupcake collection, posted on instagram the same day Durant announced his decision. The cupcakes imply that Durant is soft and became a symbol in Oklahoma City, later that year when he played his first game back there. Fans wore t-shirts and made signs with cupcakes. These two men hate each other and I would pay an insane amount to hear their unfiltered thoughts about each other.

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Kevin Durant vs Lebron James

This is what it’s all about. Forget the hate. Forget spitting, cupcakes, twitter, instagram, trades, forget all of it. These are the two very best players in the NBA today. They play the game a very similar way. And to see them go at each other would absolutely be worth the price. Unlike many of the above matchups, this isn’t about the banter and trash talk. This is what Tiger/Phil was meant to be – this would showcase the purity of basketball. The two very best, giving everything they have. Not for the fans. For each other. To prove they are the best. Sign me up.

Did we miss anything? What two active NBA stars would you pay to see play each other? 

Mike is a member of the FWAA (Football Writers Association of America) and an alum of the University of Cincinnati.

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